Loïc Magnien Street Photography About Portable Photo Printers 6

About Portable Photo Printers


In recent years, progress has been made in printing technologies. So much progress that you are now able to print your own photos, within a minute, from a device which fits inside your pocket… and with no ink cartridge thanks to ZINK paper technology ! You can have a smartphone in one pocket and your printer in the other one, snap and in less than 2 minutes, share your print with your mates. That’s really how good it is.

What is ZINK paper ?

ZINK stands for Zero-Ink… for the printer ! To make it simple, the paper is made out of 5 layers : yellow, magenta and cyan layers of clear crystals in sandwich between a base and top layer. Each layer is activated depending on the temperature of the thermal head contained in the printer. Each crystal will basically melt at a different temperature, it’s like choosing your color by choosing your temperature:

  • Yellow, the top layer, activated at high temperature short time
  • Magenta, middle layer, activated at medium temperature, average time
  • Cyan, bottom layer, activated at low temperature and longer time

The process happens as the photo gets out of the printer and it usually takes less than a minute to print the photo.

Polaroid is basically the same

Not quite the same technology. The old Polaroid process utilizes chemically impregnated paper that includes color dyes and has a developer layer on top of it. When the film is exposed, the chemical captures the image on the paper and when the paper exits the camera it is being squeezed between rollers that activate the developer. After few minutes the image is developed and fixed. That’s still a photo exposure but it still works, just more expensive per print.

Different models and brands

Cost / Photo
HP Sprocket Portable11. x 2"$ 0.50
Polaroid Zip11.97.42.321.618755253 x 2"$ 0.50
Kodak Mini Portable Printer19. x 2.1"$ 0.60
Instax Share SP- x 1.75"$ 0.87
Prynt Case16.511.710.238.424950203 x 2"$ 0.50

The Chosen One

They are all a bit different. The Prynt case is clearly a joke, the design is pretty ugly and that’s a direct no. The Instax SP2 has a futuristic look but is quite big compare to other, just as the Kodak Mini. Plus the Instax SP2 doesn’t use the same paper as the others. I then hesitated quite a while between the HP Sprocket and the Polaroid Zip, the Polaroid ZIP looks better but the HP Sprocket has a better print quality. Images are stil a bit too warm on print compared to the digital file with the HP paper.

I found the best is to use the HP Sprocket with the Polaroid ZIP paper. They are both the same size paper, the only difference is the ZINK blue smartsheet. It’s basically a piece of paper with a bar code that goes in first, before any photo can be printed, it gets scanned and tells the printer you are using the correct paper. You just need to use the HP smartsheet with the polaroid paper.

Store it carefully

This is still a printer with a thermal head, so even if it feels plasticky on the outside, it packs quite high tech inside. The HP sprocket and Polaroid Zip are both the size of a 2.5″ external hard drive, so I simply store it inside a hard drive case. You can find one for less than a quid on amazon. That’s the one I use.